Baseball Prospectus introduced Pitcher Abuse Points
last summer as an attempt to measure the workloads of
starting pitchers. Briefly, the system is based on the premise that each
pitch above a certain threshold is incrementally more damaging than the
last, with the damage growing more severe as more pitches are thrown. Our
threshold is 100 pitches; beyond that, a pitcher "earns" one
point each for pitches 101-110, two points each for pitches 111-120, and so
For more on the system, please check the
original PAP introduction
The list of highest PAP scores for pitchers 30 and over:
Name Team Age PAP GS PAP/S
Randy Johnson Arizona 35 421 11 38.3 Curt Schilling Philadelphia 32 338 11 30.7 Al Leiter New York (NL) 33 223 9 24.8 Steve Sparks Anaheim 33 204 10 20.4 David Cone New York (AL) 36 144 10 10.4 Jamie Moyer Seattle 36 143 11 13.0 Jeff Fassero Seattle 36 143 12 12.9 Dave Burba Cleveland 32 138 10 13.8 Tom Glavine Atlanta 33 129 11 11.7 Kevin Brown Los Angeles 34 120 10 12.0
No real surprises here. Well, maybe Sparks, but he’s a knuckleballer and
generally held to a different standard. Johnson is once again at the top of
the list in PAP, and once again it doesn’t seem to matter. I’d be willing
to bet he could handle a 39-start, 300-inning workload without breaking
down. Not right away, anyway.
Schilling, who also ranked second to Johnson last year among
thirtysomethings, has continued to pitch well, but you have to expect that
eventually this kind of workload is going to wear him down, Tim Kurkjian’s
protests notwithstanding. Let’s not forget that Schilling has already
missed parts of three seasons (1994-96) after carrying a similarly high
workload in 1992 and 1993. He takes great care of himself, but a great work
ethic can only go so far.
Leiter, bad knee and all, has moved up from sixth on this list last year to
third so far in 1999, and you can’t even claim that he’s pitching better.
With the Mets suddenly in free-fall, Bobby Valentine needs to get his
rotation healthy and productive; giving Leiter some rest might go a long
way towards solving the problem.
There is a big gap from fourth to fifth on the list, which is good news for
Cone. Cone has battled through one injury after another, possibly stemming
from the workload he endured in his six years with the Mets, yet his 3.71
ERA as a rookie in 1987 is still his career high. He came into the season
with 168 wins, and probably needs three more good years to kick him into
the Hall of Fame. His workload is almost identical to last year (14.7 PAP/S
in 1998), which in my opinion is too high for his surgically-repaired
shoulder. He doesn’t need to be babied as much as, say, Bret Saberhagen,
but Torre should take advantage of his fairly deep bullpen to pull Cone
after five innings when the Yankees are up big.
The rest of the list is fairly predictable; amidst the chaos that is the
Mariner pitching staff, Piniella is riding his two veteran lefthanders,
even though neither is pitching well. Burba qualifies as a staff ace for an
Indian rotation whose mediocrity has been well-hidden behind the best
offense in baseball. And Glavine and Brown are certainly no strangers to
high workloads, though both are efficient enough with their pitches to keep
their PAPs reasonably light.
Overall, the list is underwhelming. Last year, for example, nine pitchers
in the 30-and-over range averaged at least 18 PAPs per start; this year,
only four pitchers are over 14 PAPs an outing. Two pitchers who ranked
highly last year, Roger Clemens (third with 36.6 PAP/S) and Chuck Finley
(fourth with 26.7 PAP/S), are way down this year. Clemens was sidelined by
a pulled groin and has only 42 PAPs, while Finley has been used with a
little more restraint by Collins, amassing 104 PAPs in his 10 starts. Greg
Maddux, in case you were wondering, has just 28 PAPs in his 10 starts. His
effectiveness may be missing, but his efficiency hasn’t gone anywhere.
Now the 10 highest workloads among pitchers aged 26 to 29:
Name Team Age PAP GS PAP/S
Pedro Martinez Boston 27 426 11 38.7 Pedro Astacio Colorado 29 202 10 20.2 Brian Bohanon Colorado 29 195 10 19.5 Wilson Alvarez Tampa Bay 29 189 8 23.6 Shawn Estes San Francisco 26 186 10 18.6 Rick Helling Texas 28 175 11 15.9 Mike Sirotka Chicago (AL) 28 118 9 13.1 Omar Daal Arizona 27 113 10 11.3 Jose Lima Houston 26 93 10 9.3 Aaron Sele Texas 29 92 10 9.2
Again, few surprises on this list; most of these pitchers are considered
either #1/#2 starters, or have the "veteran" tag on them after
starting in the major leagues for many years. Martinez, who led in this
category last year, actually leads all pitchers with 426 PAPs, and
is just 27. As the undisputed best pitcher in baseball, obviously, we have
to worry about whether he’s a candidate to fall to pieces shortly.
I’m inclined to believe that while his workload is too high, he is
not a high risk to suffer an injury anytime soon. His brother Ramon
endured arguably the most dangerous abuse of this decade, averaging 119.3
pitches per start in 1990, when he was "22" years old. While
Ramon was never again as effective as he was that year, he continued to be
a dependable starter, allowing Lasorda and his successors to pile on more
abuse before his rotator cuff finally gave out last year.
Both brothers are thin and look fragile, but perhaps they simply are
genetically predisposed to withstand more work than your average starter.
Their ligaments may be more flexible, they may be fast healers, whatever.
Pedro was handled much more sensibly by Felipe Alou in his formative years,
before taking on his current high workload beginning in 1997, when he was
25. I’d like to see Jimy Williams give him a 90-pitch freebie every now and
then, but I don’t see a Livan-sized crime being perpetrated here. Of
course, I didn’t think Kerry Wood was in grave danger despite a high PAP
Speaking of Hernandez, there’s our old friend Jim Leyland with two of his
new slav…er, pitchers, ranking second and third. The high-scoring Mile
High environment forces pitchers to throw so many pitches that, unless you
use every opportunity to employ your bullpen, your starting pitchers can be
put directly in harm’s way. Don Baylor never got enough credit for using
his bullpen as often and as effectively as he did, but now that a new
manager is holding the reins, Baylor’s efforts should not go unmentioned.
Alvarez has endured a pretty high workload in his career, and you have to
wonder if it’s not responsible for his inability to build upon a fabulous
season (15-8, 2.95 ERA) as a 23-year-old in 1993. The same career path
seems to be the fate of Estes, who went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA as a
24-year-old two years ago, but has been injured and ineffective since then.
Helling and Sele are no strangers to this list, as co-aces of the Rangers’
rotation, and neither has been as effective as last year. Sirotka is the
ace by default of the White Sox rotation, and given his age, his workload
is probably no big deal. Lima and Daal have both pitched wonderfully since
the beginning of last year, and so not surprisingly they’re being relied on
to consistently pitch seven or more innings. Neither has been worked overly
hard; Lima, in particular, has tremendous control and is very efficient
with his pitches, and can often go eight innings with a pitch count under 100.
And now the real meat of the issue, the 10 hardest-working pitchers 25 and
Name Team Age PAP GS PAP/S
Livan Hernandez Florida 24 301 10 30.1 Russ Ortiz San Francisco 25 253 10 25.3 Chris Carpenter Toronto 24 140 10 14.0 Bartolo Colon Cleveland 24 126 10 12.6 Freddy Garcia Seattle 22 118 10 11.8 Carlton Loewer Philadelphia 25 113 10 11.3 Ismael Valdes Los Angeles 25 90 10 9.0 Kelvim Escobar Toronto 23 77 10 7.7 Odalis Perez Atlanta 21 64 8 8.0 Jose Rosado Kansas City 24 64 10 6.4
No…it can’t be…there must be some sort of mistake.
Well, there certainly is one: John Boles has apparently not learned from
his predecessor. One year after Livan Hernandez had the two highest pitch
counts in baseball (153 and 150), racked up 46.1 PAPs per start and not
coincidentally had a very disappointing sophomore season, he once again
leads the 25-and-under chart with an inexcusable workload. He is actually
pitching a little better than he did last season, but the potential he
showed as a 22-year-old rookie, when he went 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA and was
the toast of the postseason, has been frittered away by devil-may-care
For all the magic that Dusty Baker has cast over San Francisco Bay, his
handling of young starters really needs to be taken to task. Apparently
unperturbed by Estes’ lousy pitching, he is trying to do the same to Russ
Ortiz. And it may be working, as Ortiz has been bombed in two of his last
three starts. What makes it even more galling is that the Giants have a
deep bullpen. If Baker’s boys are going to surprise everyone by contending
in September for the third straight year, he needs to back off his young
starters for a while and help them stay fresh for the second half.
Carpenter is considered one of the game’s best pitchers under 25, and his
workload reflects it. Escobar is also part of the Blue Jays’ vaunted,
albeit disappointing, young pitching staff. To his credit, Jim Fregosi is
treating the pair a little more gingerly than Tim Johnson, who worked them
like (ahem) a platoon commander: Carpenter’s workload has dropped slightly
from 14.9 to 14.0 PAP/S, while Escobar, who in 10 starts last year averaged
a ridiculous 27.4 PAP/S, is down to just 7.7 this year.
Colon ranked second to Hernandez in the 25-and-under category last year,
and is being treated a little more sensibly (12.6 PAP/S, down from 19.6
last year) in 1999. You can’t help but wonder if it has something to do
with his ineffective pitching. You don’t think there’s a reason that Colon,
who was 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA at the All-Star Break last year, has been
nothing special since?
Young starters under Lou Piniella seem to take one of two tracks: they
either never establish themselves in the majors because Piniella can’t
stand their guts, or if they’re unlucky, he takes a liking to them.
Piniella likes Garcia, and it shows. What’s worrisome here is that Piniella
is making noises about wanting Garcia to throw even more pitches as part of
his becoming a man, so we need to watch Garcia’s PAP score closely. Even if
his workload remains where it is, it’s too high for a 22-year-old.
No one else on the list is in grave danger, although if Schilling is traded
I worry that Loewer may see his workload climb even higher. Valdes, after
two consecutive seasons with high pitch counts under Tommy Lasorda in 1995
and 1996, has seen his workload dip each of the last three years, and this
year under Davey Johnson he’s at just 9 PAPs per start, down from 11.3 last
year. On the other hand, he has yet to fulfill the promise he showed in his
first several years, when he had some of us thinking he could become one of
the five best pitchers in baseball. Perez is a bit of a surprise,
especially considering he is just 21; Bobby Cox uncharacteristically let
him throw 121 pitches in a start this year, accounting for over half his
PAP total. Perez blew the lead in his last inning of work, so hopefully Cox
learned his lesson. Rosado is in his fourth year as a major league starter,
and compared to the Bob Boone era his arm must feel wonderful.
On the flip side of the coin are the 10 least-worked pitchers in baseball
(minimum 5 starts):
Name Team Age PAP GS PAP/S
Gil Heredia Oakland 33 2 11 0.2 Tim Belcher Anaheim 37 3 10 0.3 Ryan Rupe Tampa Bay 24 2 5 0.4 Jason Bere Cincinnati 28 4 9 0.4 Jeff Weaver Detroit 22 5 9 0.6 Bret Saberhagen Boston 35 3 5 0.6 Jim Abbott Milwaukee 31 4 6 0.7 Pete Schourek Pittsburgh 30 7 10 0.7 Chad Ogea Philadelphia 28 9 10 0.9 LaTroy Hawkins Minnesota 26 9 10 0.9
This list contains the kinds of pitchers that you would expect: fragile
arms (Saberhagen, Schourek) that need to be protected carefully; pitchers
that have been so awful they rarely make it out of the fifth inning, both
the Dick Such kind (Hawkins) and the well-coached kind (Belcher, Bere,
Heredia has been neither ineffective nor injury-prone; he simply has
phenomenal control, and as the A’s #3 or #4 starter is not being asked to
do too much in front of a very underrated bullpen. Rupe has been handled
well by Larry Rothschild, although five starts is hardly a large sample. He
had a major arm injury in college that allowed him to drop to the sixth
round of the 1997 draft, and given the talent he has flashed already this
year (the first 90 game score of the season), it would be extremely prudent
for the Devil Rays to watch his pitch counts carefully.
But the real name to watch here is Jeff Weaver, the outstanding rookie
starter for Detroit. The Tigers have made their share of mistakes in recent
seasons. Actually, they’ve taken on the Braves’ and Astros’ share as well.
But the organizational decision to forbid Weaver from throwing over 100
pitches in a start, one they have only recently relaxed (he has yet to
throw over 105 pitches), may be the best and most significant decision made
by a team this season. If you haven’t seen Weaver pitch, do so the next
chance you get; he’s quite fun to watch. He throws from a near-sidearm
delivery, and has the uncanny ability to throw strikes while never throwing
a pitch in the heart of the strike zone. The nearest comparison I can make
is to David Cone, and imagine how much better Cone might have been had his
workload been monitored as carefully as Weaver’s has been. If the Tigers
stick to their guns, Weaver may very well be one of the best pitchers of
the next decade.
Finally, for those of you who like gory endings, we’ll finish with a list
of the highest Age-Adjusted Workloads in baseball. The age-adjustment, as
explained in the Baseball Prospectus 1999, multiplies a pitcher’s
PAP score by a factor dependent on their age. The formula for the age
factor is (38-age)/6, with a minimum of 1. So for pitchers 32 and over,
their age-adjusted workload (AAW) is the same as their PAP/S, but for a
29-year-old, his PAP/S goes up 50%, for a 26-year-old it is doubled, and
for a 23-year-old it would go up 150%.
The 12 most-abused starters in baseball:
Name Team Age PAP GS PAP/S AAW
Pedro Martinez Boston 27 426 11 38.7 71.0 Livan Hernandez Florida 24 301 10 30.1 70.2 Russ Ortiz San Francisco 25 253 10 25.3 54.8 Randy Johnson Arizona 35 421 11 38.3 38.3 Shawn Estes San Francisco 26 186 10 18.6 37.2 Wilson Alvarez Tampa Bay 29 189 8 23.6 35.4 Chris Carpenter Toronto 24 140 10 14.0 32.7 Freddy Garcia Seattle 22 118 10 11.8 31.5 Curt Schilling Philadelphia 32 338 11 30.7 30.7 Pedro Astacio Colorado 29 202 10 20.2 30.3 Bartolo Colon Cleveland 24 126 10 12.6 29.4 Brian Bohanon Colorado 29 195 10 19.5 29.3
What a race we have here! Last year’s winner of the Most Abused Pitcher
award, Livan Hernandez, and the third-place finisher, Pedro Martinez,
engaged in a neck-and-neck race for this year’s prestigious award. Stay
tuned all season to see which pitcher pulls ahead to win–or pulls up lame
in the process.